Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Holy Spirit

ACTS 2:1-13

The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force – he is a person

Ø He comes as fulfilment of Jesus’ promise
Ø He comes at a time when the Father in heaven chooses
Ø He comes, as a person, to persons: to ‘each one’. It is a strong theme in Acts 2. Peter, later on, recalls a prophecy made about 600 years earlier, when God says through a man called Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”, men and women, old and young.
Ø He comes every time in a unique way: on this occasion he came with wind and with tongues of fire. But there is no formula, no single pattern.

Sometimes he will come with shaking and heat. Sometimes he will come and there will be weeping and joy. Sometimes he comes and there will be falling over. Sometimes he comes and people will speak in tongues. Sometimes he comes and there will be an overwhelming sense of peace and the presence of God.

But when the Holy Spirit comes upon the church and upon individuals, a number of things happen.

1. People are released to praise God.

The disciples speak in tongues. They don’t understand what they are saying, but others do. They are ‘Praising God’: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

2. People will be amazed:

The words that Acts 2 uses are ‘bewilderment’, ‘utterly amazed’, ‘amazed and perplexed’ - and later on, ‘everyone was filled with awe’.

The Spirit will break open our assumptions, and disrupt our patterns.

3. People will be mocked:

When things happen that we don’t understand, that are slightly threatening to us – because they challenge our assumptions – we try and to explain away. And if we can’t, then we mock. In this case the disciples were accused of being drunk

4. People will be changed

We read about that at the end of the chapter (vv42-47): there is faithful discipleship; things were happening; there was a real – and very practical - unity among the Christians; there was an overwhelming generosity: people sold their stuff in order to help other people who were in need; and there was great joy.

5. People will be converted

3000 were converted on the day of Pentecost. And v47 tells us that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Why? Because the Spirit of God was touching people and drawing them into the community of believers.

So often we operate our Christian life at the level of duty.

Now don’t get me wrong. Duty is essential in the Christian life. It is actually something that is desperately needed in our churches today. We need men and women who will do their duty to God: who will read their bible and say their prayers daily, who will come to church, and be obedient – even when they do not wish to do so. I like the story of the student who was converted. His friend had been talking with him about Jesus for many months. The student went up to see his friend. He was so excited. “I’ve invited Jesus into my life – and he’s so real”. “Great”, replies the friend, “We’re going to go out and buy you a bible and an alarm clock”.

Duty is essential. The words that the bible uses for the idea of duty are the words ‘self-discipline’ and ‘perseverence’ and ‘faithfulness’. They are actually all works of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

But duty on its own is not enough. A religion that is based on duty will inevitably lead to legalism. And legalism has two little brothers: pride and inadequacy. If I do my duty I feel proud. If I don’t do my duty, I feel condemned.

A Christian faith that is based purely on duty is like a relationship, a marriage that is based purely on duty. It’s stable, it’s bearable but not very attractive.

Last week I was talking with someone about his daily cycle of prayer. I would give him full marks for discipline. But I found it very hard to see where the joy was for him, or the intimacy with God or the love, or the life. It was simply a duty.

And there is a real danger that our relationship with God becomes sheer duty: we have a fixed pattern of daily prayer; we come along to the prayer meetings, home groups and church. And maybe we enjoy the company, or the music, or the building – but actually our relationship with God has become stale. It is about maintaining a stable and very formal relationship. We’ve lost – or maybe have never known – the love and the joy.

I have a suspicion that the single strongest reason why we do not share our faith with others is because we do not really think that we have much to share.

The problem is that if I do not know the peace and joy and freedom and hope and life that come from knowing Father God – if my faith is simply duty bound – why should I wish for someone else to become a Christian? Why should I impose on them all my hang-ups?

I don’t know what language you use for this. Some people talk about the baptism of the Spirit; some people talk about being filled anew with the Spirit. I don’t actually think it matters. What does matter is that we need to pray that God will pour out his Spirit on us – that he will renew us with his love, and that he will refresh our intimacy and that he will restore our passion.

Some of us will be confused – we really do not know what to make of it all. We need the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to take that first step of faith – whether it is committing ourselves to Jesus or saying that we would like to be baptised or confirmed (with all that it means), or choosing to attend an introducing Jesus course, exploring Christianity or Alpha course

Some of us here will be weary – we need refreshment. You’ve been working your socks off for the kingdom, and the gauge has been bouncing on empty for as long as you can remember. We are giving ourselves and we’re not giving Jesus. And the problem is that while he is infinite, we are finite.

Some of us have become complacent – we need, not to put too fine a point on it, a kick up the spiritual backside. We had a routine; that became a rut. And the rut has got deeper: and as someone said, ‘The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth’. We need the Holy Spirit. It is his speciality to convince people of the reality of sin, of the fact that life apart from God has no future and of how to live right. But he needs us to allow him to do it.

Some of us find ourselves out of our depth. We’re going through things or doing things that are much too big for us. Or it seems that God is asking us to do something that we don’t think we can do. We need to know again the reassurance of God’s presence and guidance and equipping

And some of us have simply lost our way. We did believe it, but now we’re not so sure. We need the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to persevere through the darkness, and to break through and bring his light and hope.

I long for God to pour out his Spirit on us again: I’ve seen what happens when the Spirit has come on a group of people. There were about 30 of us gathered together. Someone had spoken. There really was such an awesome sense of God’s presence. Two people were converted. Eight or nine people experienced God in a completely new way. And over the rest of that term we saw a considerable number of people becoming Christians.

We need to trust the Father’s timing. And we need to trust Jesus’ promise.

The Spirit was given at the first Pentecost, but that does not stop him from coming again and again and again and again.

Martin Lloyd Jones used to say, “You claim you have the Spirit. That’s great. Where is he: where is the love, the joy, the freedom?” And he would go on to say: “People ask me if I believe in a second blessing. Of course I do. I believe in a second blessing, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. God, bless me, bless us, bless us”.

So I’m going to invite you to pray with me for the coming of the Spirit. We’ll remain seated. You don’t need to do anything. You can simply pray this prayer with me – and then we’ll wait in silence. And if you wish to, use the silence to invite God to send his Holy Spirit, to work in you through his Holy Spirit.

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